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Flash

One significant different between the two models is that the J1 has a built-in pop-up flash, but the V1 doesn't. Instead you have to buy the fairly pricey (approx $150 / £120 / €130) Speedlight SB-N5, that slides onto the camera's accessory port.

The built-in flash of the Nikon J1 has a guide number of 5m at ISO 100, and offers flash exposure compensation of +1 to -3 EV. The J1's electronic shutter limits the maximum sync speed to 1/60sec (in contrast the V1's mechanical shutter can sync up to 1/250sec, making it more useful for 'fill flash' use in brighter lighting conditions).
The Nikon V1 does not offer a built-in flash but is compatible with the optional Speedlight SB-N5. The SB-N5 is small and convenient, and offers a useful bounce function for softer, less directional light. Here, the subject was lit using light bounced from the ceiling. The final result is softer and more three-dimensional than direct flash.

Auto ISO Performance

Note: In August 2012, Nikon released firmware version 1.20 for the V1 and J1 which among other small changes, claims to improve the cameras' program lines in some exposure modes, to reduce the risk of blurred images due to slow shutter speeds. We have not been able to test the new firmware yet (as of November 2012) so readers should be aware that some of our comments in this section of our review refer to issues that may be fixed - or at least reduced in severity - in the new firmware.

As cameras nominally aimed at entry-level users, we think that automatic ISO performance is a crucial element of the J1 and V1's performance, and sadly, we're not terribly impressed. Unlike the customizeable Auto ISO settings in Nikon's midrange and high-end DSLRs, the Automatic ISO system in the J1 and V1 cameras is basic to the point of actually being damaging.

The temptation on the part of many 1 System owners will be to leave these cameras in Auto ISO mode (partly because manually setting ISO requires a visit to the menu system, but mostly because Auto-ISO is a great feature for point-and-shoot operation). Time and again though we've captured images in Auto-ISO mode which are slightly blurred due to either camera or subject movement - an issue that could have been avoided if only the cameras had set a higher ISO sensitivity and a faster shutter speed.

To test the cameras' behavior in Auto ISO mode we positioned the Nikon J1 facing a blank sheet of white card, and took exposures in evaluative metering mode at three different luminance levels, at the long and wide ends of both the 10-30mm and 30-110mm 'kit' zooms. Exposure was set to program mode (fully automatic) and ISO was set to Auto (100-3200). Active D-Lighting was turned off, as was Vibration Reduction (which makes no difference to program line) and custom white balance was used.

1 Nikkor 10-30mm F3.5-5.6 VR

  EV 2
(low artificial 'bar room' lighting)
EV 5
(average interior lighting)
EV 10
(overcast daylight, sports field flood lighting or bright interior)
10mm (27mm equivalent) • 1/15sec
• F3.5
• ISO 1000
• 1/30 sec
• F3.5
• ISO 400
• 1/250 sec
• F4
• ISO 100
30mm (81mm equivalent) • 1/15sec
• F5.6
• ISO 2500
• 1/25 sec
• F5.6
• ISO 800
• 1/125 sec
• F5.6
• ISO 100

1 Nikkor 30-110mm F3.8-5.6 VR

  EV 2
(low artificial 'bar room' lighting)
EV 5
(average interior lighting)
EV 10
(overcast daylight, sports field flood lighting or bright interior)
30mm (81mm equivalent) • 1/15sec
• F3.8
• ISO 1000
• 1/30 sec
• F3.8
• ISO 450
• 1/250 sec
• F4
• ISO 100
110mm (297mm equivalent) • 1/20sec
• F5.6
• ISO 3200
• 1/100 sec
• F5.6
• ISO 3200
• 1/500 sec
• F5.6
• ISO 400

As light levels decrease, the cameras don't set a minimum shutter speed to combat camera shake and motion blur, then increase the ISO accordingly. Instead they both increase the ISO and lower the shutter speed at the same rate. In other words, if the light level drops by two stops, the cameras will raise the ISO by one stop and lower the shutter speed by one stop to compensate - a deeply flawed approach.

As you can see from this table, what this means is that the J1/V1's auto ISO system is quite happy to select shutter speeds which are far too low for comfort as far as camera shake and subject movement are concerned. When zooming in from wideangle to telephoto with the kit 10-30mm, the J1 actually reduces the selected shutter speed, which is a very bad idea. Likewise suggesting 1/15sec at ISO 1000 at a focal length of 80mm (equivalent) is a recipe for blurry photos; 1/50sec at ISO 3200 would be a better choice.

ISO 800, 93.5mm (252mm equivalent), f/5.3, 1/60sec 100% Crop

In this image the Nikon J1 was set to ISO Auto (100-3200). It has opted for ISO 800, and a shutter speed of 1/60sec - inadequate to freeze the subject movement in this shot. Had the J1 reached for ISO 3200, and a shutter speed of around 1/250sec, this image would have been much sharper.

Both 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses offer effective vibration reduction systems, and the cameras are clearly placing a lot of trust in them, but remember that VR does not have any stabilizing effect if your subject is moving. If you look at the shutter speed values in the tables above, light levels have to get very low before the J1 and V1 will reach for ISO 3200 (the maximum sensitivity in auto ISO mode). In order to capture reliably sharp images in moderate lighting conditions we've found that setting ISO manually, or using flash, is all but essential.

JPEG Sharpness Settings

The J1 and V1 offer ten sharpness settings in each of their JPEG Picture Control modes - one of the few aspects of their feature set over which fine-grained control is possible. As we'd expect from our experience of Nikon's DSLRs, adjusting the cameras' sharpness settings doesn't result in much more actual detail being revealed, but it can make a difference to the appearance of this detail.

Each of the Picture Control modes has its own default contrast, sharpening and saturation default settings, but if you'd prefer to take a little more control, you might find that it's worth your while experimenting with the sharpness settings. For small prints and web use, the default level of sharpening in the 'Standard' Picture Control mode is fine for most subjects, but portraits often benefit from less aggressive sharpening, and detail-rich landscapes (or indeed anything destined for printing onto matte paper) often look better with sharpening dialled up a notch or two. For easy illustration, the following samples were all shot in the 'Standard' Picture Control mode, using the same exposure settings, at ISO 100.

JPEG sharpening '0' 100% Crop
JPEG sharpening 3 (default in 'Standard' Picture Control Mode) 100% Crop
JPEG sharpening 9 100% Crop
Raw file, sharpened 'to taste' in Adobe Camera Raw 6.6 100% Crop

As you can see, things get pretty crunchy when sharpening is turned up to 9 (maximum) and at a pixel level, halos and sharpening artefacts are obvious. It is no surprise that the processed raw file, above, contains more detail, and that the detail is more naturally rendered.

Active D-Lighting

Active D-Lighting (ADL) is designed to balance the appearance of scenes that contain a wide tonal range, from very bright or clipped shadows to deep highlights. It works by combining slight exposure (typically by underexposing by approximately 0.3EV) with tone curve adjustment to increase shadow brightness slightly, while reducing the brightness of highlights. Active D-Lighting is adaptive, and as such its effect (and indeed the way it works) varies depending on the scene.

In most day-to-day shooting the effect of ADL is very subtle (if not unnoticeable) but in situations like the ones depicted below, where the tonal range of the scene is very wide, it can really help. Unlike Nikon's higher-end DSLRs, the J1 and V1 offer only two ADL settings - off and 'auto'.

ADL Off ADL On

As you can see, ADL can't work miracles - the tonal range of this scene is too wide to be fully accommodated in a single exposure, even with ADL's help. What ADL has done, however, is give the shadow areas of this scene a slight boost, and shifted exposure slightly (by -0.3EV), in combination with a tone curve adjustment, to pull back the brightest areas of the scene. This has revealed more detail along the horizon, and recovered some of the delicate hues of the sky at upper right.

The final result still displays clipped highlights (unlike the ADL systems implemented in Nikon's midrange and high-end DSLRs, ADL in the J1 and V1 is unable to meaningfully expand highlight dynamic range) but is undoubtedly better balanced than the original.

In-camera optical corrections

One of the advantages that digital imaging technology has over film is that to an extent, optical issues like distortion, vignetting and fringing can be corrected (if not entirely eliminated) in-camera. This allows manufacturers to create smaller, more complex lenses more economically, while maintaining image quality at an acceptable level.

When we spoke to Masahiro Suzuki - General Manager of the R&D dept., in the Development HQ of Nikon Inc at the launch of the 1 system he told us that the J1 and V1 do perform some optical corrections in-camera, but that 1 System lenses 'do not require much correction'. From examining JPEGs from the J1 and V1 alongside raw files processed through Nikon's View NX2 software and Adobe Camera Raw it is clear that the cameras perform vignetting and fringing corrections in-camera, and View NX2 applies the same corrections to raw files. Both camera and NX2 do this very effectively, to the extent that neither corner shading nor fringing are problematic in shots taken with either camera.

The images shown below are a JPEG and simultaneously-captured .NRW raw pair, shot with the 1 NIKKOR VR PD-Zoom 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 at 100m (270mm equivalent).

JPEG
View NX2 (default conversion)
ACR 6.6 (default conversion)

As you can see, fringing and vignetting are successfully reduced in both 'straight from camera' JPEG files and raw files processed at default settings using the bundled View NX2 software. View NX2 does a better job of reducing fringing than the camera's JPEG engine, but the difference is fairly minimal, and visible only on close inspection. Adobe ACR applies no automatic fringing or vignetting corrections by default and both issues are very apparent in this conversion (but very easy to fix).

Distortion

As you can see from the images above, the J1 and V1 do not automatically correct distortion in-camera (and there's no post-capture distortion correction option available either) and nor does View NX2. In fact, View NX2 does not even provide an option for manual distortion correction. Distortion isn't too serious an issue in normal scenes, but but it can be very obvious in scenes which contain a horizon line, or - like this shot - contain horizontal or vertical architectural features.

This is a JPEG, taken at default settings on the 10-100mm powerzoom. (it's the same file that we showed you in the rollover table above). As you can see, pincushion distortion is a problem (click for the full-sized original to get a better idea of its full extent).
Fortunately, the distortion is relatively simple, but Nikon's bundled View NX2 software does not feature any sort of distortion correction option.

Using the 'Transform' sliders in Adobe Camera Raw (the same options are available in the main Photoshop editing window via the 'Filters' menu) I neutralized the pincushion distortion, and also leveled the composition slightly for good measure.
After a couple of minutes' work, I have an image free from distortion, but it's a shame that I had to reach for third-party software to do something so basic.

High ISO Noise Reduction

If you turn to the noise comparison page of this review you'll be able to see the measured effect of activating the J1 and V1's high ISO noise reduction settings, but here we've set up a more representative 'real world' scene, in the sort of low, warm lighting typical of a dimly-lit room. Control over noise-reduction is limited to a simple 'on/off' toggle and as you can see from the images below, turning high ISO noise reduction on makes a significant difference to image quality at a pixel level in JPEG and to a lesser extent, raw files, too.

This scene was shot on the V1, under low-intensity tungsten light, in aperture priority mode using a manual white balance. For each of the camera's three highest ISO sensitivity settings two images were taken - one with high ISO NR turned off, and one with the function turned on. The images below are 100% crops (click for the full-sized originals).
ISO 1600 NR Off (JPEG) ISO 1600 NR On (JPEG)
ISO 3200 NR Off (JPEG) ISO 6400 NR On (JPEG)
ISO 6400 NR Off (JPEG) ISO 6400 NR On (JPEG)

As you can see, high ISO noise reduction is heavily biased towards luminance noise reduction which gives smooth, but slightly waxy detail when files are viewed at 100%. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though - unless you're making large prints, you probably won't be bothered by the lack of critical detail, and you'll appreciate the relative smoothness of the noise-reduced images. Crucially, color saturation is not significantly reduced when noise reduction is activated.

Noise-reduction in raw mode

Unusually (but not uniquely) the Nikon J1 and V1 apply noise reduction to high ISO raw files as well as JPEGs, whatever NR setting you use. Raw noise reduction kicks in at ISO 800, but its effect is most obvious towards the top end of the J1 and V1's ISO sensitivity scale.

The images below show the effect of turning in-camera high ISO noise reduction on when shooting in raw mode (in this case at ISO 6400). These files were processed using Adobe Camera Raw 6.6 and all NR sliders were turned to '0', to give a better idea of actual noise levels (bear in mind that of course, in real-world shooting you'd almost certainly apply some post-capture NR).

ISO 6400 NR Off (raw - ACR) ISO 6400 NR On (raw - ACR)
ISO 6400 NR Off (raw - ACR) ISO 6400 NR On (raw - ACR)

As you can see, the file captured with in-camera NR turned off is slightly 'grittier' than the file captured with the function turned on. The difference is subtle but noticeable by close comparison, especially in darker and shadow areas of the scene.

Fortunately, turning high ISO noise reduction on in-camera has a far less destructive effect on pixel-level detail in raw files than it does in JPEGs (see examples higher up this page). For this reason, if you're a habitual raw-shooter, you might find your life is a made a little easier by shooting with in-camera NR turned on. This lets the camera take the edge off the worst of the noise for you, leaving you less to worry about in post-capture adjustment.

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Comments

Total comments: 2
Solar Ben
By Solar Ben (9 months ago)

I love the nose hair in the 50mm f1.8 sample pic.

2 upvotes
Duncan Dimanche
By Duncan Dimanche (10 months ago)

Correction : it does not allow full shutter control in video... it is stopped at 100/1 so shooting in low light is a pain

Comment edited 42 seconds after posting
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Total comments: 2